Population Speculation

The 300 million milestone spawns predictions about America's future

| October 12, 2006

With the US population expected to hit the 300 million mark this week, speculations into the future of America abound. Current estimates put the 2043 population at an alarming 400 million. Who will we be? Where will we reside? How will we live?

The answers are anyone's guess. Number crunchers can make loose projections based on current trends, but the savvy reader would do well to bear in mind that there will always be unforeseen factors impacting those figures. For example, as Joel Garreau notes in the October issue of Smithsonian, demographers missed a big one in neglecting to foresee the impact of birth control on population numbers. And in his 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb, Paul R. Ehrlich predicted 'certain' mass starvation by 1975, yet today Americans are plagued by obesity. Despite, or perhaps because of, such goofs, it's worth looking at what demographers are forecasting for the next 100 million Americans.

Not surprisingly, immigration is by far the most widely cited factor in predicting US population numbers. There are typical hysterics like Pat Buchanan lamenting the downfall of 'traditional' (i.e., white) America, and there are those that say immigration will help prop up our aging population and keep Social Security funds rolling in. Another interesting take comes from Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who reports that the open spaces of the United States will be an added advantage to adapting to rapid population influxes. Instead of settling in customary urban melting pots like New York and Los Angeles, immigrants are repopulating and rejuvenating former agricultural and industrial centers that had been slowly emptying out. The sudden surge of immigrants into these areas may have ignited some of the current debate on immigration, but it's this influx, Glauber notes, that could drive the growth and development many communities are hoping for.

Below are a few more projections that found their way into the media transom over the last few weeks -- some 'informed speculation,' others wild predictions -- of what a country of 400 million Americans might be like. Of course, divining the future through numbers is a tricky business, and the predictions listed here may say more about us now than in the future.

-- 'Frontier' land -- that with less than six people per square mile -- increases (Christian Science Monitor)
-- More people move to the West and the South (Christian Science Monitor)
-- Immigrants augment a dominantly younger population (Smithsonian)
-- Wealthy, liberal environmentalists buy land in conservative mountain states, shifting the political balance (Christian Science Monitor)
-- People marry older, have fewer children, and live in bigger houses (LiveScience.com)
-- Water shortages scourge the West (Christian Science Monitor)
-- Conservation and sustainable development become government priorities (Christian Science Monitor)
-- Traditional family structures continue to break down (LiveScience.com)

Go there >> 300 Million and Counting

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